News conference choreography

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The very tail end of President Obama’s news conference today provided the best glimpse into the workings of the White House press corps.

Listen to the comment shouted at the end of the president’s remarks. ()

After Obama had bid everyone “adieu,” an unidentified reporter whined “No questions about Iraq?” It seemed an odd complaint to a president, coming from someone responsible for asking the questions, one of which, by the way, included “how many cigarettes do you smoke a day?

I wondered about that on Twitter, when Kevin Watterson, the Minnesota House Republican Caucus’ communications boss, suggested coordination between Obama and the press corps over what questions would be asked.

He wasn’t the only one. Writing on the Politico blog, Michael Calderone noted that Obama invited a question on Iran from Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney.


Reporters typically don’t coordinate their questions for the president before press conferences, so it seemed odd that Obama might have an idea what the question would be. Also, it was a departure from White House protocol by calling on The Huffington Post second, in between the AP and Reuters.

CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller, a veteran White House correspondent, said over Twitter it was “very unusual that Obama called on Huffington Post second, appearing to know the issue the reporter would ask about.”

Knoller says a news conference shouldn’t “be choreographed,” although presidents historically have had a “go-to” reporter to call on when questioning gets tough — the kind of reporter who might ask about, for example, a new dog or the number of cigarettes he smokes a day.

Most of the questions asked today seemed to follow the issues that currently have our attention — Iran and health care. It’s not clear what question about Iraq the lonely reporter with the complaint would have asked had he been given the chance.

On that subject — the news agenda — a survey of what we’re interested in (by way of the news media) speaks to our short attention spans.

Here’s the graph for the last week, compiled by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism:

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And the week before that:

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And the one before that:

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Iraq hasn’t registered on the PEJ’s news coverage index since the third week in February.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • H. Michael Whalen

    So “news conferences shouldn’t be ‘choreographed’?” How soon we forget the Bush administration. Do a Google search on James Dale Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon. Under the Jeff Gannon assumed name, Guckert was admitted to Bush news conferences and was allowed to ask a question “so friendly it might have been planted.” Guckert/Gannon’s journalistic credentials turned out to be nonexistent.

  • Bob Moffitt

    I wish my friend (no snark, I do consider him a friend) @kwatt would stick to local politics, his area of expertise.

    If I wanted to listen to someone to endlessly whine about the President, I could find plenty of people of Twitter to follow.

    Kevin Watterson is a very bright fellow who offers great insights on local political matters, the MN GOP, and his off-beat sense of humor is great. He should leave the Obama bashing to Rush and Fox.